Gators win but Donovan not happy

When Lynn University’s Randy Jones drained a three-pointer to cut the Florida lead to 20-17 with 11:00 remaining in the first half, Billy Donovan called a 30-second time out and spent the entire time in the huddle letting the Gators have it. Giving up three-pointers always gets to Donovan. Giving up four of them in nine minutes really sets him off.

What he told the Gators in the huddle burned a few ears.

“It’s not repeatable,” said freshman point guard Jai Lucas, who scored 15 points, dished out six assists and turned the ball over only once in Florida’s 101-65 exhibition win over Lynn at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center Monday night.

“I don’t know if I could repeat it but I could sum it up,” said freshman forward Adam Allen, who hit all five of his shots including 3-3 from the three-point line for 13 points to go with three rebounds and two blocked shots. “He said ‘these guys are tougher than us right now. We’re letting them get too many open shots and we have to take that three-pointer out of the equation.’ Those were the nice words that he used.”

Defending the three-point line is rule number one in the Donovan doctrine of good defense. Lynn’s three-point shooters lit up the Gators for 21 points off 7-15 shooting (46.7 percent) in the first half Monday night, an alarming figure for a coach whose team allowed opponents to shoot 40 percent from three-point stripe four times in 40 games in last season’s national championship run.

Donovan calls the three-point shot the equalizer in college basketball. Considering Florida’s youth and inexperience this year, he knows the Gators have plenty enough obstacles to overcome this season without allowing opponents carte blanche from long range.

“Forget about the score,” said Donovan. “I’ve said for a long, long time that the most dangerous ingredient in our game of college basketball is the three-point line. We did about as poor a job in my opinion as we could have done in the first half.”

The Gators took a 51-37 lead at the half thanks to 57.6 percent shooting but it shouldn’t have been that close. Lynn’s ability to hit three-pointers along with determined offensive rebounding kept the Division II Knights within striking distance.

“Because of the three-point line it certainly kept them and the score a lot closer than maybe it should have been with our percentages,” said Donovan.

The Gators cleaned up the defense in the second half. There were no easy looks from the three-point line as the Knights went 0-5, but Donovan still wasn’t happy that there were too many second chance opportunities for the smaller visitors. Florida outrebounded Lynn 36-35 for the game, but the Knights snagged 18 offensive rebounds and converted them into 17 second-chance points. Nine of those second-chance points came in the first half.

“Here’s a game where we gave up 18 offensive rebounds to a team that’s drastically undersized but they did it through toughness and physicality,” said Donovan. “I told our guys at times that we’re not aggressive and physically tough enough in the front court to go up there and compete against them which is something we have to get better at. I think as we look at this tape I think it could be a game that could prove to be helpful for us if our guys take it the right way tomorrow.”

Florida took command of the game in the final six minutes of the first half when they closed on an 18-8 flurry. The Gators went into the locker with a 14-point cushion and spent the intermission listening to Donovan and associate head coach Larry Shyatt grill them for their lack of defense.

“He just told us that we mainly have to guard the three-point line,” said Lucas. “We gave up seven three-pointers and for us to win, we’re going to have to stop the three-point line and we’re going to have to box out and rebound. He got us fired up and we came out and played.”

The Gators opened the second half on a 21-6 run that pretty much put the Knights away. Dan Werner got the half started with his first points of the season on a long three from the wing and that seemed to be just the spark the Gators needed. On that opening salvo, the Gators dominated on the inside with 6-11 Marreese Speights scoring six points, from the outside with Lucas and Allen knocking down threes and on the run with six fast break points.

On the defensive end, the Gators played harder and moved their feet better. Lucas, who wasn’t pleased with his defense in Florida’s exhibition win over Flagler last Friday night, knew that better defense would correlate to a better overall game on his part.

“Mainly I wanted to focus on defense this game because I played horrible defense last game,” said Lucas. “I felt if my defense got better everything else would come along.”

Speights led the Gators with 18 points, hitting 7-9 from the field and all four of his free throws. He grabbed seven rebounds and blocked four shots. Hodge, the Gators only junior on the team, scored 12 points, hitting 2-3 on three-point attempts. Hodge played tough defense, particularly in the second half, and finished the game with four steals.

Joining Lucas and Allen in double figures were fellow freshmen Chandler Parsons (13 points) and Alex Tyus (11).  Parsons grabbed eight rebounds and had a steal while Tyus grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots.

Freshman Nick Calathes once again played the point, shooting guard and small forward. He scored nine points (4-8 shooting), hauled in four rebounds and tied Lucas for the team lead in assists with six. He also had two steals.

Werner hit only 1-6 from the field and didn’t look comfortable on four of the six shots. He’s 1-11 in two exhibition games but he also has 11 assists in those two games. Werner had seven rebounds in the first exhibition game but only one against Lynn and that was a concern for Donovan.

“I’ve tried to get him confident shooting the basketball,” said Donovan. “There’s no secret here, he’s 1-11 in two exhibition games and certainly that’s not against the talent we’re going to face. I think the best part of his game is that he’s a terrific passer from the power forward spot. He has 11 assists and one turnover which is absolutely remarkable. I guarantee you that you could probably go across the country and find a power forward that after two exhibition games has 11 assists and only one turnover.

“I don’t want him to feel pressure shooting the basketball and make him feel he’s got to make shots. That’s not what we need him to do. I’m more concerned the fact that he played 16 minutes and grabbed one rebound. That’s more of an alarming statistic to me rather than the fact he shot 1-6.”

Sophomore forward Jonathon Mitchell got his first points, hitting a banked three for his first points in the two exhibition games and a run-out dunk after a steal. Mitchell also had two rebounds, an assist and a blocked shot.

Donovan said the Gators have to get more out of the two sophomores.

“Jonathon and Dan both have the physical size and look and build to provide more for our team on the hustle plays and the physical plays,” said Donovan. “I don’t look at their shooting. I look at those things. Here’s a guy that’s a freshman [Parsons, eight rebounds] that’s got less physical ability fighting and battling harder than somebody that has more physical ability in that area. That’s where I want to see those guys provide more for our team.”

This was the final tune-up for the Gators who play their first game that counts Friday night when they play host to North Dakota State, a Summit League member that won more than 20 games last season.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.